New research shows nuance in the microbe conversation is key.

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Over the last 10 years, health-related discussions have taken a major turn. Microbes, once largely portrayed as disease causing “germs,” were cast in a new light. Conversations about the importance of the gut microbiome filtered through mainstream news outlets. The idea of consuming bacteria for health (probiotics) became big business. Understanding how to preserve and augment the balance of bugs in the gut caused us to question excessive antibiotic use and reexamine the benefit of dietary fiber. In many ways, we learned that we actually needed more microbes in our…


A physician explains the nature of opportunistic infection

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In 1971, a professor of epidemiology named Abdel Omran proposed the epidemiological transition theory. He concluded there have been three main “stages” of human health concerns. First, in the pre-modern era, we dealt with widespread pestilence and famine. This time period was characterized by a high mortality rate and a low average life expectancy — around 20 to 40 years. Major causes of death included infections, malnutrition, and complications of childbirth.

Next came stage 2, dubbed “the age of receding pandemics.” Average life expectancy increased, averaging between 30 and 50 years. Infections remained a significant issue, but epidemic peaks became…


With all the focus on COVID-19, immunity has become a fixture in the news and conversation. Yes, immunity is key to fighting off infections. But it’s actually a much bigger deal. In fact, it plays a major role in conditions like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. More surprising still, it shapes our thinking.

To alter our thoughts, the immune system has to reach the brain. We usually only hear about brain cells called neurons. But as it turns out, the brain actually has its own resident immune cells. These are called microglia. Researchers discovered microglial cells around a century ago…


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In the last several decades, we’ve increasingly understood that chronic inflammation plays a major negative role in our health, contributing to the risk of developing diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and dementia.

More recently, research has revealed that the effects of inflammation reach much deeper into our physiology. Mounting data have demonstrated that inflammation changes the way we think, altering our mood and even our decision-making. This powerful information has significant implications for both individual and public health.

The idea that inflammation affects our brains and our thinking is not all that novel. Higher levels of inflammation are commonly seen in…


Coronavirus has dominated the news and social media for the last several weeks. With unprecedented anxiety around the virus, information from a wide variety of sources has been making rounds. Though some of this data is based in scientific evidence, much of it is conjecture, and some is demonstrably false.

We still have much to learn about the virus and the viability of treatment options. But this does not mean that we can blindly accept the guidance or opinions of whatever we hear through texts, emails, social media, the news or in conversation. …


At the end of each year, millions of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Yours may be to lose weight, go to the gym more often, do a better job keeping up with old friends or just to watch less TV. These are all great goals, but you’re probably not going to reach them.

You’re not alone. One study found that only 19 percent of people making New Year’s resolutions stuck to them after two years. And yet, self-help is a $10 billion annual industry in the US. …


Oladimeji Ajegbile/Pexels

Our access to the news is at an all-time high. Radio, TV, and newspapers are supplemented by streaming content on our portable digital devices, enabling us to catch up on the latest information in the blink of an eye.

But as hyper-partisan, sensationalized, and negative programming becomes the norm, the news can leave us angry, anxious, and generally stressed, pushing us into thought patterns that undermine our physical and mental health. And while the news has its upsides, it’s increasingly clear that we need to weigh them against these psychological costs.

There are many arguments in favor of news consumption…


As adults in America, we are exposed to nonstop attempts to sway our purchasing decisions. Many of us have come to expect this, and are able to mount at least a small amount of resistance to these carefully crafted marketing techniques. Even then, it’s easy to find ourselves buying unnecessary and unhealthy products simply because we saw the right ad. Yet freedom of choice is central to our ideology, so regardless of the consequences, we’re generally comfortable allowing marketers free rein. Though it may not always work in our favor, it’s up to us to see through the manipulation.

But…


Added sweeteners are hidden in most foods and drinks, adding unneeded and unhealthy calories to our diets.

It was an early day in med school. As usual, I was underslept and struggling to fight off fatigue. Like most of my classmates, I relied on psychoactive stimulants to keep me going. In my case, this meant I drank lots of coffee.

That morning, bleary eyed and half-awake, I shuffled up to the counter of the coffee shop and ordered an iced coffee. A few minutes later, I was handed a gigantic plastic cup filled with what appeared to be a milkshake. …


There is no end to the blogs, podcasts and books that reference self-help, self-esteem, self-worth and being “true to oneself.” But what exactly is this “self” we’re supposed to care about? The philosopher David Hume described self as “a bundle or collection of different perceptions” for which we’ve created “a distinct idea of an object, that remains invariable and uninterrupted through a supposed variation of time.” More recently, neuroscientist Sam Harris has stated that the self is an illusion. Others take a more spiritual perspective, associating self with the soul.

With so many competing definitions, it’s clear the idea of…

Austin Perlmutter, MD

Dr. Austin Perlmutter, co-author of BRAIN WASH, is a board-certified internal medicine physician.

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